Friday, April 06, 2018

Beatrice


We said goodbye this week to my beautiful old girl cat, Beatrice.  She was seventeen, nearly eighteen years old.  I believe I spent nearly every day of her life with her, & I am not being conceited when I say she liked me best, because it was really just by default.  She knew me longest, so she tolerated me most.


This little white monster was the only girl child of a cat named Caldonia, who belonged to my friends Mike & Melinda.  They adopted her when she was pregnant, & in the summer of 2000, they asked if I wanted to adopt another cat.  My cat Blue Boy had died the year before, & it was just me & a kitten named Buster in my sad little bachelor pad.

She was named Beatrice because she was just so beautiful, I imagined I would accompany her through hell & purgatory just to see her in heaven.


That picture is our first meeting.  She was so small, so white, &, I have to admit, so mean.  In the first year or so, our interactions involved me trying to pet her & her attacking my hands.  I got used to having scratches all over them.  She was mean to Buster, too, but that cat was incredibly patient with her.  He kept her in line & groomed her & paid great attention to her.  He was the best big brother she could have ever had, & she loved & interacted with him in a way she would with no other cat in the house.


I have three stories about Beatrice's days in my lonesome bachelor pad.  The first involves pooping.  Apparently, Beatrice didn't quite learn how to poop from her mother.  In the first couple of days with me, I noticed she hadn't gone to the litter box to defecate, although she did know how to urinate.  I went to the internet for help & it told me that a mother cat will often lick the anus to encourage the child to do its thing, & while I didn't want her to suffer, I didn't think I could quite manage those maternal moves, but the internet advised me that a warm washcloth would do the trick, & so it did.  I like to think I helped teach my little cat how to poop.

She was a hellion in those days, & she loved to run up the curtains in the living room, just leap on to them & using her claws Spider-Man up to the curtain rod, where often she would meow & I would have to help her down.  It was something that always kinda shocked people who were visiting - the sudden leap & scramble was quite loud.  When my girlfriend convinced me that we needed to move, & after she helped me (by doing most of the work) clean the place after we moved out, we thought it might be nice to close the curtains (I always left them open) but when we did, little shafts of sunlight peeked out from hundreds of holes poked into the fabric by tiny claws over months of climbing adventures.  We left the curtains open.  I got most of the deposit back.

& speaking of the move - when Beatrice was a kitten, I was able to hold her when I went to the vet & stuff like that, but as she got bigger, she got stronger, & she was never interested in going outside.  She was too skittish, & would hide when people came over.  But I had to put her in a carrier to move her to our new place, & I was doing it in my now-empty duplex & Beatrice did not want to go.  I came outside & told them I'd come back for her & my left arm was covered in scratches & blood.



She eventually found herself living in a house with her big brother Bolan, her dad, his girlfriend, & her two dogs.  Beatrice made it clear with a swipe at the nose of whichever hound that she was best left alone.  It was a ritual - each of the five dogs we've had learned pretty much right away that she was not a buddy or a plaything.  As late as last year, I was calling Pauline to bed - Pauline the hound who wrestled with Rottweilers! - & she wouldn't come, though I could hear her tapping around.  I got out of bed to find that she was at the end of the hall & Beatrice was just sitting there, a few feet in front of her, minding her own business.  Pauline did not dare pass.

That little cat rolled with the changes, always making time to visit with me, usually at night, right before bed.  She loved to be loved, but she had a time limit.  My petting & her purring would come to an abrupt end when she'd swat at me, her way of saying "enough's enough."


There would of course be other cats, & here's a picture of her meeting Bolan in 2006.  Bolan is such a gregarious sort that he won her over in his way, but mostly the other cats respected her space & let her be her.  She had a strong, fierce personality.  She was, of all our animals, the most certain of herself.

& she would move with us to West Virginia, then Kentucky (two different residences), & back to Texas (also two different residences).  It got easier to move her with each change of address, but it was never a piece of cake.  Age of course mellowed her a bit.  She might be found lounging somewhere next to a dog or cat, or even me, as long as I respected her boundaries.  She enjoyed sitting in the window but never really wanted to explore more than that.  She loved to eat, & got a little tubby, like in this photo from our first year in Kentucky, including an amusing Winston photobomb:


She was always supportive of my radio work.  She's the icon for my page on Radio Free America.  Though something strange happened when we got to West Virginia: she stopped meowing.  She could still howl a bit - she made awful noises when I took her to the vet - but I think the move to West Virginia, with her & Bolan crying in the back of the car for the entire trip, I think she decided she had meowed herself out.  She would more likely open her mouth & let out an audible gasp, which became so recognizable that I would know it as if hearing a distinct voice.  I miss it more than you can imagine.

In 2014, when she had just turned fourteen, her health problems began.  Magda would have the timeline better, but it was a miserable cascade.  She had issues with IBS, & then had to have her thyroid partially removed.  The steroids for the IBS triggered diabetes, which she would have for the rest of her life, although it went into remission a couple of times.  Controlling her diabetes was a constant concern, & it took its toll - in her later years, she developed in her limbs diabetic neuropathy, which made her paws look a bit like "clown feet."  She was always a heavy treader - you always knew when she was approaching, & her jumping off of something sounded like something fell - so the main concern was whether it was painful.  We just didn't know.  We took care of her best we could.


She did mellow as she got older, & let me love on her longer & longer.  She liked to be in my room with me, & I liked her there too.  At one point I put a little pet bed under my desk where she would sleep.

But chronic illnesses have a way of catching up, & earlier this year we tried steroids again to curb her weight loss, which knocked her sugar levels out of whack, which then preceded to advance to pancreatitis.  Over the past year she had lost a great deal of muscle, & in the last few weeks had been eating less & less.  Being a creature of habit, she still insisted on eating at the regularly scheduled times, & demanded a more varied diet (dry food sometimes, wet food others, lots & lots of cheese toward the end) even when she ate less & less of it.  A visit to the vet early last week had our doctor telling me I had to start thinking about her quality of life,  Sometimes you need someone who only sees your animal every few months to alert you that something's not right.



But in her last week, we gave her fluids & she seemed to perk up, until, of course, she didn't.  We talked to our vet a week later & she gave us a gentle scolding: "Who are you keeping her alive for, you or her?"  Of course it was for us!  I had lived more than a third of my life with this beautiful little creature nearby, what the fuck was I going to do if she were gone?

When I told our vet that Beatrice was sitting on my lap & letting me caress her for up to thirty minutes at a time, she suggested that might be a signal that she was in pain, that she wasn't well, that it was time to let her go.


Beatrice died Tuesday afternoon.  A veterinarian came to our home, Beatrice was on her favorite pillow on the dining room table, she was given sedatives to relax her before she left us.  She hadn't been sleeping well for a while, & like I said she was a bit of an anxious cat, but she seemed fine & let me & Magda pet her while she became more serene than I'd ever seen her.  We touched her all over, she purred a kind of weak purr, we marveled at how beautiful she was, how soft she was, this cat who wanted & got love on her own terms for almost two decades.  She would've turned eighteen in June.

& me, I have dreamt about her every night since, I see her out of the corner of my eye as I pass the places she used to sit.  There are only three cats to feed now, not four.  Little tufts of her hair turn up from time-to-time - on the pillow on the crate behind me, in my office, where she would sit with me for the last few months; on clothes that I've worn the past couple of weeks; on other places she's sat or been, dog beds, pillows, my bed.  She hasn't really gone away because how could someone that's been such an essential part of your life just disappear so suddenly?

Back in the day, I used to say, "I never would've guessed that the love of my life would be a mean little white cat."  It turns out we get to have several loves of our lives, in several species if we're lucky, & oh man was I lucky to have Beatrice.  I was lucky my friend Mike trusted me with her when she was a baby, I was lucky she chose me to be the one she loved the most, I was lucky everyone we had to live with understood & respected her for what she was.

Lucky, grateful, sad, so sad, but glad, glad I got to spend so much of my life with my little princess, with my tigress, the mean little ball of fur who grew up & took an outsized portion of my heart as her favorite place to be.  Love you & miss you, Beezy.  I hope you knew.

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